Thailand is known for its beautiful endless beaches with blue crystal clear water and palm trees decorating the shore. However, there is much more to discover than sunbathing, full moon parties and sipping at classic cocktails. In 2011, I travelled to Southeast Asia and discovered these three amazing places far away from any beach or crazy party.
It is 5 a.m. in the morning. The bed bugs crawling up my legs keep me from sleeping and I can no longer ignore them. It just means an early start to a bright day. In Sukothai, 450km north of Bangkok, I had one oft he nicest mornings on my travels to Southeast Asia. Despite the bed bugs. You might be surprised that I am describing one of the nicest places I have been to in Thailand by starting off telling you about the crawling creatures I have met.
However, getting out of bed early means seeing places in a different light. Literally. The rising sun puts a golden shimmer on everything and the temperatures are still pleasant, not too hot yet. There is a sparkle in the air, something promising of a long day ahead. A little bit tired from the rather sleepless night that I had due to my crawling friends, I got myself a strong coffee and a toast at a nearby café to my cheap hotel and went off to see the beautiful architecture of Sukothai.
Sukothai, known as rising of Happiness, was Thailand’s first capital, the first Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 14th century. Renting a bike is the best way to explore the 3,38 square kilometers historic parc of Sukothai that shows many monuments and statues of the first Siamese architectural style. Since 1991 together with two other parks, it belongs to the UNESCO world heritage. The advantage of strolling around the site at such an early hour is that there are hardly any other people and you feel like you are taken back in time. The big monumental portrayal of Buddha in the middle of the park is impressive, the striking thing he is almost always presented upright (walking), giving him an almost prideful attitude. The monuments will leave you breathless, and with every turn around a new corner you will be amazed and wonder how something like this has been created by human mankind.
Sukothai’s extraordinary historical ruins take you back in history.
Lopburi – the city of the apes
Do not carry around any food! That is the only advice that I have if you want to visit Lopburi, the city of apes, 150km north of Bangkok. Not far from the train station and on a traffic isle lies the ‘San Phra Kan’ temple, that is home to almost 200 wild macaques.
Me and my fellow traveller C. went to the city center shortly after our arrival by train. However, other than a few streets, some nice buildings and a fruit market, Lopburi has not much to offer and so we made our way to the apes temple. As I said in the beginning, do not make the mistake to take food. Because we did! Coming from the market, where my travel companion wanted to try the stinky smelly durian fruit (that he of course did not like very much), we were strolling down the street towards the apes temple. Suddenly a loud brief squeak emerged into the air. I looked up in the sky and on electricity lines five apes were sitting, staring at the plastic bag with the smelly fruit in it. ‘Shit’, I proclaimed. And seconds later, three apes were approaching us at a speedy pace. Luckily in the last second, C. dropped the bag and threw it a couple of meters away. Squeaking apes were all over the bag trying to get their share of the smelly fruit. The biggest monkey finally took it up a power pole and on the electricity line. What a feast for them!
Not even a 2 hours bus ride north from Bangkok, lies the town of Ayutthaya. It is another fantastic historical park and, indeed, the second Siamese capital after Sukothai. It was, however, destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century but the reliquary towers, called prangs, and the gigantic monasteries give still an idea of the magnificent past. Again, I recommend renting a bike to discover get to the historical park, if you live inside the centre, but also a walk is feasible as it is only about 2-3 km of distance. The side walks are in poor condition, so be prepared to walk around wholes anytime.
And yet, the advantage of renting a bike is that you will get to see more of the countryside. Three rivers surround Ayutthaya: Maenam Chao Phraya, Pasak and Lopburi (which also has a river). In the 14th century, the town was directly located on the coast of the gulf of Thailand. With the century-long erosions, today it finds itself 100km apart from the coastline. You might be feeling a little bit like Julia Roberts in Eat.Pray.Love riding her bike alongside rice terraces on Bali. The surrounding area of Ayutthaya is similarly astonishing.
And the best thing about all those three places is that not awfully many tourists go there. On the usual backpacking route up to Chang Mai, not everybody stops here. Many prefer the night train or bus that directly connects Bangkok and Chang Mai. However, in my eyes, these spots should not be missed!